Break That Word Here!

Last week’s newsletter explained how to use a zero-width nonbreaking space to keep a word from breaking at the end of a line when hyphenation is turned on (Tools > Language > Hyphenation > Automatically hyphenate document). Fine as far as it goes. But what can you do to break a word at a place other than one Microsoft Word insists on using? For example, Word will happily break “convertible” as “converti-ble.” Ugh. (See your favorite style manual for more information about how to break words properly; I prefer The Chicago Manual of Style.)

The solution is to insert an optional hyphen at any acceptable breaking points. In “convertible,” for example, you could insert optional hyphens as follows: con-vert-ible. The optional hyphens will override word’s automatic hyphenation and break the word at one of the points you’ve specified.

To get an optional hyphen, click Insert > Symbol > Special Characters > Optional hyphen. Or, easier yet, press CTRL + – (on a Macintosh press COMMAND + -).

In our shop, proofreaders check galleys for bad breaks, which are then corrected manually by our typesetters, who insert optional hyphens as needed (although usually in QuarkXPress rather than Word). Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to insert optional hyphens automatically? As it turns out, there is–even in Microsoft Word.

Stay tuned; next week I’ll tell you all about it.

You can learn more about The Chicago Manual of Style here:

And you can see the FAQ here:



After reading last week’s article about how to use a zero-width nonbreaking space to keep a word from breaking, Patsy Price sent a tip about an elegant alternative:

I too have been very frustrated when specific words insisted on breaking in Word 98 (Mac) whether I wanted them to or not. I tried everything I could think of, including inserting a nonbreaking hyphen before the word, but nothing worked. Then somebody on one of the lists I belong to made a suggestion that has worked for me so far: select the word and change the language to No Proofing [Tools > Language > Do not check spelling or grammar]. Even when the file is opened in Word 2000 PC the word doesn’t hyphenate.

Patsy made the effort to track down the person who originally made the suggestion, H?l?ne Dion on the McEdit list. So thanks to H?l?ne for the tip and to Patsy for passing it on.

Bill Rubidge ( sent the following tip on how to make a zero-width nonbreaking hyphen in Word 97, along with a brilliant wildcard find-and-replace routine to keep words together at the end of a paragraph.

Interesting zero-width action. In my case I wanted to break long URLs in a narrow text column. Unfortunately, I am still using Word 97, so I had to resort to a conditional hyphen solution, but I set the hyphen size to 1 point and colored it white to hide it.

In any case, my experience on that issue and your description of the one below made me think you could take your “Don’t break that word” solution a step further. I never use hyphenation, so I don’t have your issue, but I dislike short words ending up all by their lonesome as the final line of a paragraph. My solution is:

Search for:

([A-Za-z0-9,.$?;:'””)!*]{1,8}) ([A-Za-z0-9,.$?;:'””)!*]{1,8})[^013]

Replace with:


This forces the last two words (up to eight characters long) to be on the last line together.

Your hyphenation problem seems similar, but I shudder at the thought of inserting the Unicode characters manually. Would it do the job for you to search for the end of a paragraph and then insert the nonbreaking zero-width space character between EVERY letter of the last word? This way, you could run this macro automatically for the whole document.

By the way, I found I had to do an additional undo search to take out these things where I knew that the item was part of a small column. For example, if the found item was in a table, I would undo the nonbreaking material, as the table columns might be too narrow for this to be appropriate.

Thanks to Bill for the great tips.



Possibly the ultimate treatise on the subject, the fascinating book Hyphenation, by Ronald McIntosh and David Fawthrop, is available free online:

This entry was posted in Typesetting. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • The Fine Print

    Thanks for reading Editorium Update (ISSN 1534-1283), published by:


    Articles © on date of publication by the Editorium. All rights reserved. Editorium Update and Editorium are trademarks of the Editorium.

    You may forward copies of Editorium Update to others (but not charge for it) and print or store it for your personal use. Any other broadcast, publication, retransmission, copying, or storage, without written permission from the Editorium, is strictly prohibited. If you’re interested in reprinting one of our articles, please send an email message to

    Editorium Update is provided for informational purposes only and without a warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and freedom from infringement. The user (you) assumes the entire risk as to the accuracy and use of this document.

    The Editorium is not affiliated with Microsoft Corporation or any other entity.

    We do not sell, rent, or give our subscriber list to anyone.